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Driver's Seat
How to raise money – or fail at it
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I give a few hundred bucks to worthy causes each year. I should give more, I suppose. Maybe one day I will. I’d probably increase my donations somewhat if the fundraisers were more skillful or ingratiating at their jobs.

A fundraiser’s first job, as I see it, is not to alienate his/her prospect at the very outset of the contact. But this fact seems to escape many of the groups that get in touch with me.

One way to lose my gift is to assign the phone call to a person whose foreign accent is so pronounced I can’t understand what he/she is saying. I have little prejudice against Pakistanis, Hispanics, Saudis, Filipinos or other overseas groups. But I become apoplectic when the fundraiser’s command of English is so lousy I have no hope of understanding what he or she is saying.

Another turn-off is to be assaulted by some underpaid hireling reading in a monotonous, sing-song voice from a printed script in a steam room. As soon as I interrupt to ask a simple question such as “Who do you work for?” the hireling begins to stammer in confusion. He/she has obviously not been trained to handle anything not on the script. This triggers my doubt that he even knows or cares about the organization he’s representing.

Pressure tactics also will cause me to hang up immediately. Earlier today I got a phone call from a fundraiser who said he represents a veterans group I’ve never heard of. I asked him to send me some literature, so that I could check on his credentials. Before he agreed to do that, he asked me to promise I’d give a donation no matter what. I gave him a quick click, instead.

I don’t like appeals from outfits who say they’re strapped for money, but who nevertheless stuff their mailers with six pages of back-up oratory. All that paper was once healthy trees. All that ink, plus the postage, costs money that could be used elsewhere.

Dishonesty in fund-raising is rampant. Among the worst are the TV evangelists. Not all of them, but most of them. We will all grow old and die before we hear a TV preacher say this: “Please send me as much money as you can, and right away. If you don’t, I won’t be able to afford my Rolls-Royce and my mansion in the Smokies. I’ll have to find honest work, instead of strutting and ranting and scolding in front of millions of gullible TV viewers who mistake me for a Christian instead of the money-grubbing con artist that I am.”

Instead (and I’ve beaten this drum before) these pious scammers will talk about seeds. That’s another term for money. “Brother, the seed you plant today will become a mighty oak tomorrow. So send in your seed ($500 would be a good beginning) and before long you’ll have your own Cadillac and a chalet outside Gatlinburg.”

Even the causes I support irritate me with their fund-raising techniques. I send PBS an occasional buck or two, but I always feel like enclosing a note saying, “Please use this contribution to shorten the sales pitches made by those snazzy society matrons who interrupt your otherwise excellent TV productions every half-hour to explain in extravagant detail how much we should support PBS.”

As I wrote that last paragraph, my phone rang. It was a phone company. It didn’t ask for a cash gift. Instead, it wanted me to listen for eight minutes while they tell me why I should sign a two-year contract that includes phone, TV, texting, the Internet, movie streaming, Twittering and conscious contact with God. All of this in return for only a fifth of my annual income during the next six months, after which you can bet that rates will sharply rise.

It used to be that fundraisers were happy for a single, one-time gift from us. The latest trend is to encourage our agreeing to a monthly donation to be automatically deducted from our bank account or charged to our credit card. Presumably forever.

In this election year, the political parties are in full cry for funding. Their tone is now approaching desperation. My friend Leilani, a lifelong liberal, is being hounded via daily emails from Joe Biden and other Democratic sources. Their intensity has quadrupled since Republicans began threatening to impeach President Obama. The Democrats know this is unlikely to happen, but their fundraisers have jumped on the impeachment horse and intend to ride it all the way to Election Day.

Most fund-raising techniques are unimaginative, but not always. The latest ploy is to dump buckets of ice-cold water on the heads of prospective donors, in an attempt to have them donate money to victims of, and research on, Lou Gehrig’s disease. My question: If I agree to send in a check, will you promise NOT to pour water on my noggin?

Bob Driver is a former columnist for the Clearwater Sun. His email address is
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